The right-hand man is now the man.
Bill Ellinghaus, for eight seasons Bryan Wells' offensive coordinator and part of the Neuqua Valley program since 1999, became head coach after Wells was relieved of the position in March.
Ellinghaus commands a team that should compete for the Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division title and aims for a ninth playoff berth.
"The main thing," he said, "is getting the kids to work hard, and they're certainly doing that right now."
Schemes won't change too much, he said, which makes sense with senior running back Joey Rhattigan returning. An Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Class 8A All-State pick, Rhattigan ran for 1,271 yards and 20 touchdowns with a high of 241 yards against Waubonsie Valley.
The coach expects more of that but also better offensive balance from a team that in 2011 averaged 219 yards rushing to 102 passing.
Some of that may be by necessity. Danny Dudek, who ran for 781 yards, tore an ACL this summer and isn't expected to return (his brother, Mikey, is a promising junior receiver). Fullback T.J. Scruggs comes off a sophomore team that went 8-1, 6-0 a second straight year.
Quarterback Dylan Andrew looks to add the vertical dimension. A former freshman B-teamer whose senior leadership earned a co-captain nod, he'll target returning wideout Reggie Ervin and ace return man Jeff Evak. All will benefit by bookend tackles Andrew Geers on the left and J.P. Quinn on the right, both two-year starters with much college interest. Quinn's accepted a Central Michigan offer.
Defensively, the Wildcats feature three-year starting linebacker Sam Norgaard, lineman Michael Casas and safety Dennis Thurow, among others. Returning safety Josh Prescher seeks a quick return from a summer leg injury. Ellinghaus likes defensive linemen including Casas, Godfrey Collins, Tyler Speich and Alex Jaquez.
And he likes leading this team.
"It could be with any new guy taking over, but I really feel there's an added excitement," he said.
-- Dave Oberhelman
Coach: Bill Ellinghaus (first year).
2011 record: 5-5, 3-3, tied for third in the Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division.
Top players: Michael Casas (DL, 6-1, 220, Sr.), Spencer Donahue (DB, 5-11, 185, Sr.), Jeff Evak (WR-KR, 6-3, 190, Sr.), Andrew Geers (OL, 6-7, 275, Sr.), Sam Norgaard (RB-LB, 6-1, 235, Sr.), J.P. Quinn (OL, 6-5, 270, Sr.), Joey Rhattigan (RB, 6-0, 201, Sr.), Dennis Thurow (DB, 6-1, 195, Sr.).
Fri, 8/24, Neuqua Valley at Naperville North, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 8/31, Naperville Central at Neuqua Valley, 7:30 p.m.
Sat, 9/8, Neuqua Valley at South Elgin, 4 p.m.
Fri, 9/14, Neuqua Valley at St. Charles East, 5 p.m.
Fri, 9/21, East Aurora at Neuqua Valley, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 9/28, Neuqua Valley at Metea Valley, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 10/5, Waubonsie Valley at Neuqua Valley (North Central), 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 10/12, Neuqua Valley at Lake Park, 5 p.m.
Fri, 10/19, Bartlett at Neuqua Valley, 7:30 p.m.